Large new infrastructure projects require skilled staff to ensure success. SEMTA (The Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance) Policy and Public Affairs Lead Stephen Howse describes how the not-for-profit organisation is working to ensure success in one of the largest British peace-time investments.

As a pan-UK organisation, Semta helps to maintain coherence and compatibility across the UK nations’ and regions’ skills systems. For example, we are responsible for the National Occupational Standards and Frameworks that define what competence means in engineering and manufacturing job roles. 

One of the things linking the four UK nations is the key role employers play in shaping skills, and the links they have with local colleges. In the case of the advanced manufacturing and engineering (AME) sector that Semta represents, these links are often longstanding. In some cases, employers have had a direct input into founding the college, securing their pipeline of talent and providing good opportunities for local people to secure good-quality jobs in their area. 

For example, the National College for High Speed Rail has been opened to provide a national skills solution to the challenge posed by the impending introduction of the HS2 high speed line*. The college offers unprecedented access to the equipment used on the rail network – much of it donated to the college by industry, including a brand-new laboratory with cutting-edge 3D laser scanners and robots. Because the equipment has been donated by industry, the training offered by the college ensures that learners are being given the right skills and experience not just for today, but for the future of the rail industry. 

In Scotland, the government has prioritised increased collaboration between employers and education institutions to improve employer satisfaction with the STEM skills their recruits have. Semta has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Energy Skills Partnership, which provides Continuous Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for college staff to gain a better understanding of that industry. 

Semta’s STEM Alliance evaluation report found that STEM practitioners accessed only five days of continued professional development per year and only 10 per cent of providers have staff undertaking employer work placements – which is why we developed the STEM Exchange, a matching service to bring industry and education together. We strongly believe that positive engagement between employers and colleges leads to better opportunities for learners and to better STEM skills, so we will continue to keep working hard to encourage it.

* HS2 is a new High-Speed rail service that will operate from London to Birmingham by 2026, and then to Leeds and Manchester by 2032. It will involve new rail tracks and stations.

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